First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Notes for Teachers and Lecturers


The Educational Material presented here is aimed at supporting lecturers and teachers of First World War poetry and the history of the First World War across the sectors - ranging from Key Stage 1, to undergraduate level. The material does have a lengthy history. Tutorials 1-4 were developed under the original JTAP programme which ran from 1995-1997, and tutorial 2, on Isaac Rosenberg's 'Break of Day in the Trenches' was actually launched in January 1995 making it the oldest known web-based tutorial for English Literature. Tutorials 5 and 6 were written as part of the First World War Poetry Digital Archive project, funded by the JISC from 2007-2009. For the most part the original four tutorials have been kept static, in terms of structure and wording, and only essential items have been changed. Taken as a whole these, and the tutorials added, plus all the surrounding material for teachers, are intended to provide an introductory course on the subject of British First World War poetry. From the outset the following points should be made clear:

  1. This material is not meant to replace any existing course. If you are already running a course on the War or the War poets then it is hoped that these tutorials could be used to supplement your teaching;
  2. However, in the absence of an existing course the tutorials, if worked through completely, could provide a reasonably good introduction to the subject.

Support & Preparation

We recommend that at the beginning you assess your students' ability to access the resources (e.g. whether they have their own computer with an internet connection). You can then see whether the material can be set as 'out-of-class' reading or not. Ideally, students should be taken through the material you wish to use beforehand, but they have been written to be as intuitive as possible. A good starting point might be Tutorial 1 using Owen's 'Disabled' as an example to show the environment they will be working in.

What Material is Available?

The Education Area of this site has a range of material that might be of use to teachers and lecturers, which draws on the collections assembled here. First there is a range of tutorials described in more detail below. Then there are a series of resource packs for Key Stages 1-4 in English and History. These are downloadable folders containing ready-to-use PowerPoint presentations, a 'Read Me' guide, worksheets with activities, and separate files for you to use in your own presentations. In addition to the coursepacks there are also a series of guided tours through the collections created with the project's Path Creation Tool. Again these are divided into paths for Higher Education, A Level, GCSE, and Key Stages. Finally there are a series of podcasts - interviews with major commentators on the First World War. To back this up we have included links to other web sites that you may wish to direct your students to, and an online bookshop.

The Tutorials

We have put up a series of online tutorials. These will be added to throughout the next year. Each of these is designed as a stand-alone tutorial. If you follow the link below you will be given more information.

How and When to Use the Tutorials

There are a variety of scenarios in which these tutorials could be used:

  1. Further Reading: Here you may wish to simply add the URL of the tutorials to a standard reading list and direct your students towards them in their spare time.
  2. Teaching Aids: Bearing in mind the graphical content of many of the tutorials, if you have the appropriate facilities (e.g. a lecture room with a computer, internet connection, and projection unit) they could be used as aids during class.
  3. Course Supplement: Here again the students could be directed to the tutorials in their spare time but linking them more specifically to a class, lecture or seminar: e.g. Tutorial 1 would follow-on from an Introductory lecture; Tutorial 2 after a class on a close reading of a poem; Tutorial 3 after a class on primary source material or editions; Tutorial 4 after a class on other writers of the War; etc.
  4. Integral Part: Here one could actually use the tutorials in the classroom allowing students to access the site on an individual basis (or as small groups) and to round up each class with some discussion time. It is estimated that each tutorial could occupy c.45-60 minutes of teaching time.

The WWI Literature Discussion Board

To add to the tutorials students should be directed to the WWI Literature Discussion Group which will allow them to discuss their work with fellow class-members and members of the public. To make this successful you should:

  1. Give the students a brief introduction on how to use the Board, which runs under Google Groups;
  2. Monitor their use of the Board, perhaps adding your own comments or questions to keep the discussion going.

Please do not simply point your students at the Board without some explanation of its use. In the past we have noted that students have simply posted up their essay titles without any thought or points of their own. This is usually met with some annoyance on the part of other Board members.

The Tutorials

Tutorial 1

The aim of this tutorial is to introduce the students to some basic facts concerning the War Poets, but also to the concept of an annotated poem, and the Discussion Board. To some students the information contained in this tutorial may seem very elementary and they should be directed towards the critical analyses of the poems and the Board as soon as possible. However, for students who are unfamiliar with the subject this will act as a good introduction.

All students should read the Seminar Introduction and in particular direct their attention to the question of War Poetry as historical fact. After the students have finished Tutorial 1, they should explore other web sites concerning the War. A good exercise would be to have students write a brief report on a site looking at its content, originality, accuracy, and design. They could then listen to some of the podcasts - especially those by Gary Sheffield and Richard Holmes on a historian's attitude to war poetry.

Tutorial 2

This tutorial directs the user towards performing a close reading of the poem 'Break of Day in the Trenches' by Isaac Rosenberg. It asks them to think about how, when they have discovered the historical context of the text, their understanding of the poem has been influenced.

The user is first presented with the poem 'Break of Day in the Trenches' and asked to record their initial comments. They are then taken to an annotated version of the poem (similar to 'Disabled' et al in Tutorial 1) which will hopefully increase their understanding of a reasonably difficult text. Surrounding this are numerous pages on other writers from the period, on the major battles of the First World War (involving the British on the Western Front), and on the life of Isaac Rosenberg. Rosenberg's observations on other poets (notably Brooke), on his training as a Private, and on the anti-Semitic attitudes he encountered are of interest. Once the students have finished looking at this material they should choose 'Exit' and then record their responses to the poem to see if the contextual information has in any way influenced their reading. At this point they can look at the initial and final responses of other users (an archive built-up over many years).

Unlike the other tutorials there is no direct link to the Discussion Board. The reason for this is that users may be confused as to where they should enter their reading of the poem. However, they are free to access the Board afterwards to comment on the tutorial as a whole, or to discuss Rosenberg's work.

Tutorial 3

To a certain degree this tutorial was seen as breaking new ground when it was launched in the teaching of Modern literature. It is very rare for students to be presented with primary source material at such an early stage in their academic career (i.e. this would not usually occur until postgraduate study) or to look so closely at how an edition is put together. This tutorial seeks to do both.

The technical skills needed to work with this tutorial are slightly more complicated. To begin with students should be given a standard printed scholarly edition of a poem (Stallworthy's edition of Owen's poetry is good for this) and ask them to consider the footnotes for each poem and, if noted, the manuscript variants. A brief description of the difference between palaeography and codicology would not go amiss at this point.

The stages of the tutorial are detailed on the opening pages. In short they are presented with digital facsimiles of the four manuscripts of Wilfred Owen's poem 'Dulce et Decorum est' and asked to create a final edition from them. To do this they must first choose a base manuscript (the criteria for doing this are outlined) and then collate this against the other three manuscripts (again this is explained). If they have an e-mail address there is an option to enter this and to have their edition mailed to them. Alternatively, they could be asked to put in a central e-mail address (possibly the department's or your own) and this work could be automatically submitted for assessment (N.B. the students should be told that they must put their name at the bottom of the edition).

Because of the fact that this is probably very unfamiliar territory to most students it may be advisable to ask the students to only edit the first stanza of the poem or to do the whole text as a group project.

Once they have finished this exercise they can look at Jon Stallworthy's edition, and should be directed to the Discussion Board (as in Tutorial 1) to discuss their editing decisions.

Tutorial 4

This tutorial focuses on non-British poets of WW1 (there are some pages also in Tutorial 2 on this topic). From the outset the student is challenged in terms of their preconceptions about the war and the nationalities that fought. It begins with Hardy's poem 'The Pity of It', and then there is an audio recording of Henry Williamson (author of Tarka the Otter) talking about the Christmas Truce. The main activity of this tutorial is to identify the nationalities of the anonymised writers of several poems (the poems are all presented as translations). Evidence in the poems will be of assistance to the students. Not only will this widen their appreciation of war poetry beyond the British writers, it will also challenge some prejudices.

Tutorial 5

This tutorial centres around the notion of Remembrance, and what the modern day impression is of the First World War. It targets commonly held beliefs, such as the fact that the War is seen as a disaster not a victory, that the generals were always viewed as incompetent, that soldiers executed for cowardice were unjustly treated etc, and asks the students to consider how accurate these modern day impressions are. It ties all of this in with discussions on remembrance, war memorials, and why we remember the War in a certain way. At the end of the tutorial the student should be questioning present-day attitudes to the War, but also have an understanding of the history and purpose of remembrance.

Tutorial 6

This tutorial allows the students to use the power of freely available software to analyse literary texts. It provides the user with complete collections of the works of some of the poets in plain text form, and directs them to a series of online tools that provides analyses of these. It also moves the student into other areas of language study, notably how terms emerging in WW1 are still used today (but with different meanings). To complete this tutorial you will need to have an internet connection all the time.

Other Suggestions

To get more from the course, however, you might wish to consider the following:

  1. setting up a local discussion list for your classes to allow students to discuss the material without the fear of embarrassing themselves to a wider audience (e.g. via your local Virtual Learning Environment)
  2. using such a list, or the Discussion Board provided, establishing a formal link with students at another institution thus creating a virtual conference (perhaps limiting this to a week at most)
  3. asking the students to design and create their own web pages on a particular aspect of World War One poetry not covered in the tutorials
  4. asking the students to create their own 'paths' using the Path Creation Scheme

The designers of the tutorials would like to hear of any developments along the lines of the suggestions above (and would include links to sites created elsewhere).